26.9.18

The Judiciary Committee scheduled a vote on Kavanaugh for Friday. Ford hasn’t even testified yet.

 
Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley speaks to reporters.

The vote’s just one day after a hearing scrutinizing sexual misconduct allegations.

Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has rescheduled a committee vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh for this upcoming Friday. That’s just one day after a hearing that will take place on Thursday, which is set to scrutinize sexual misconduct and assault allegations that have been brought against Kavanaugh.

Grassley’s announcement of the committee vote is the latest signal that Republicans are ready to barrel ahead with Kavanaugh’s confirmation, in spite of the recent accusations that have been levied by Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez. Ford — who has said that Kavanaugh tried to force himself on her while both of them were in high school — is set to testify, along with Kavanaugh, on Thursday. Kavanaugh has unequivocally denied all of the allegations.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday emphasized that he was eager to hear from Ford — while simultaneously casting doubt on the legitimacy of her allegations.

“The American people ... insist that vague, unsubstantiated, and uncorroborated allegations of 30-plus-year-old misconduct — where all the supposed witnesses either totally deny it or can’t confirm it — is nowhere near grounds to nullify someone’s career or destroy their good name,” McConnell said in floor remarks.

A Grassley spokesperson said that the announcement of the vote was simply a procedural move in case the committee stands ready to advance Kavanaugh right after Thursday’s hearing. “Committee rules normally require executive business meetings to be noticed three days in advance, so an executive business meeting is being noticed tonight in the event that a majority of the members are prepared to hold one on Friday,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

Republicans have an 11-10 majority in the Judiciary Committee, which sets Kavanaugh up for a likely positive recommendation from the panel. Of the Republicans, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is the only one who’s given any indication that he could potentially flip and oppose the nomination. Flake has previously said he wouldn’t vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination until he had heard from Ford.

His vote, like those of a number of other lawmakers, could come down to her testimony on Thursday. “Obviously, if you believe the charges are true, then you vote no,” Flake has said.

source: vox

25.9.18

Google’s censored search engine for China is sparking a moral crisis within the company

 
Google’s office in Gurugram, India, on September 7, 2018.

The company is reportedly cracking down on employees who are sharing details about it.

An internal battle is playing out at Google’s offices in Silicon Valley and around the globe.

After news leaked in August that the company was secretly developing a censored search engine for China, more than 1,400 employees have signed a letter demanding more transparency and accountability about the project’s potential impact on human rights. The controversy has reportedly prompted at least five Google employees to quit in protest.

Now Google is reportedly cracking down on employees who say the tool will also allow a Chinese partner to closely track and monitor users.

The search engine under development, known as Dragonfly, is designed to hide search results that China’s authoritarian government wants to suppress, such as information about democracy, free speech, peaceful protest, and human rights, according to an investigation published in August by the Intercept.

Google executives have revealed little about the project, but a Google spokesperson told Vox in a statement Tuesday that “the work on search has been exploratory, and we are not close to launching a search product in China.”

The spokesperson declined to confirm or deny new details published this week by the Intercept that suggest that the project is far along in development — and much creepier than we knew. It’s sparking a moral crisis within the company that has yet to be addressed.

The search engine is a potential spying tool

In addition to hiding search results that the Chinese government wants to suppress, Google’s new search engine would also track a user’s location and would share an individual’s search history with a Chinese partner, who would have “unilateral access” to the data. This includes access to a user’s telephone number, according to an employee memo obtained last week by the Intercept.

The data would be available because the search engine would require Chinese users to download an app and log in with their personal information.

These alarming new details were outlined in a memo written by a Google engineer who was asked to work on the project and were posted in an internal chat room where employees have been voicing concerns about Dragonfly, according to the Intercept.

The new details seemed to confirm the worst fears of international human rights groups.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and about a dozen other groups signed a letter in August, urging Google CEO Sundar Pichai to cancel the project. “As it stands, Google risks becoming complicit in the Chinese government’s repression of freedom of speech and human rights in China,” they wrote.

Google has not responded publicly to the claims in the engineer’s memo or the system’s potential use as a spying tool for the Chinese government. A spokesperson for Google declined to confirm or deny the reports on Tuesday and released this statement:

“We’ve been investing for many years to help Chinese users, from developing Android, through mobile apps such as Google Translate and Files Go, and our developer tools. But our work on search has been exploratory, and we are not close to launching a search product in China.”

Instead of addressing employee concerns about the memo’s claims, Google leadership has reportedly cracked down on its own employees.

Here’s what happened, according to the Intercept’s Ryan Gallagher:

According to three sources familiar with the incident, Google leadership discovered the memo and were furious that secret details about the China censorship were being passed between employees who were not supposed to have any knowledge about it. Subsequently, Google human resources personnel emailed employees who were believed to have accessed or saved copies of the memo and ordered them to immediately delete it from their computers. Emails demanding deletion of the memo contained “pixel trackers” that notified human resource managers when their messages had been read, recipients determined.

If the memo is accurate, and if this was the company’s response, then Google’s moral crisis is far worse than many employees have described.

Google employees are pushing back against Dragonfly

Hundreds of people who work at the Silicon Valley tech giant are protesting the company’s decision to develop the censored search engine for Beijing.

About 1,400 Google employees — out of more than 88,000 — signed a letter to company executives in August, seeking more details and transparency about the project, and demanding employees get input on decisions about what kind of work Google takes on.

They also expressed concern that the company is violating its own ethical principles.

“Currently we do not have the information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employment,” they wrote in the letter, obtained by the Intercept and the New York Times.

The existence of the censored search tool was revealed in early August by the Intercept, sparking outcry within the company’s ranks and drawing harsh criticism from human rights groups across the world. Internal documents leaked to journalists described how the app-based search platform could block internet users in China from seeing web pages that discuss human rights, peaceful protests, democracy, and other topics blacklisted by China’s authoritarian government.

Only a small group of Google engineers are reportedly developing the platform for Beijing, and information about the project has been so heavily guarded that until recently only a few hundred Google employees even knew about it.

The internal backlash among employees represents mounting concerns about whether Google has “lost its moral compass” in the corporate pursuit to enrich shareholders. But it also suggests, interestingly, that the people who make Google’s technology have more power in shaping corporate decisions than even shareholders.

In April, thousands of Google employees protested the company’s military contract with the Pentagon — known as project Maven — which developed technology to analyze drone video footage that could potentially identify and kill human targets.

About a dozen engineers resigned over what they viewed as an unethical use of artificial intelligence, prompting Google to let the contract expire in June and leading executives to promise that they would never use AI technology to harm others.

The fact that Google employees succeeded in forcing one of the most powerful companies in the world to put ethics before shareholder value is a remarkable feat in corporate America and signals why workers need an official voice in strategic decisions. Whether Google decides to drop its plan to help China censor information will be a test of how far that power extends.

At least five Google employees have reportedly resigned over the Dragonfly project, including a senior research scientist named Jack Poulson.

“Due to my conviction that dissent is fundamental to functioning democracies, I am forced to resign in order to avoid contributing to, or profiting from, the erosion of protections for dissidents,” Paulson wrote in his August resignation letter. “There is an all-too-real possibility that other nations will attempt to leverage our actions in China in order to demand our compliance with their security demands.”

For Google, doing business in China is good for shareholders, but possibly bad for humanity

It’s no mystery why Google executives want to do business with Chinese government officials: It’s profitable. With its population at 1.3 billion, China has the largest number of internet users in the world, so breaking into the Chinese market has been a long-time goal for Silicon Valley tech giants in their quest to find new users and to grow profits.

But working in China inevitably raises ethical issues for any US company. Doing business in mainland China means making deals with an authoritarian government that has a record of human rights abuses and strict suppression of speech.

Despite this, Silicon Valley tech companies have shown a willingness to put aside their idealism or rationalize their decisions to court Beijing. LinkedIn, for example, has a presence in China because it agreed to block certain online content.

Facebook is still banned in China, but chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has been trying to change that. In 2016, news surfaced that Facebook was building a censorship tool similar to Google’s Dragonfly project: It would allow a third-party to block certain Facebook posts in China in exchange for the government’s permission to operate the social media network there.

A backlash similar to the Dragonfly controversy ensued, raising concerns about the potential for government officials to use the platform to spy on dissidents and punish them. These concerns led several Facebook employees who worked on the project to resign. That project was in its early stages, too, and there’s no evidence that Facebook ever presented the tool to Chinese officials.

But Google’s decision to enter the Chinese market is more unnerving, for several reasons.

It’s a striking reversal of the strong stance the company took back in 2010, when it decided to leave China in protest of Chinese government hacking and its crackdown on free speech. The decision also seems at odds with Google’s once-prominent motto, “Don’t be evil.” It clashes with the principles the company adopted in June after the Pentagon contract controversy, in which Pichai promised that the company would not use artificial intelligence to develop technology “whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights.”

Google employees say these kinds of promises are no longer enough, in light of the news about the censorship tool, and they are demanding a more formal role in decisions about the ethical implications of their work.

The push to make employees corporate stakeholders

For the past few decades, rank-and-file workers have had no real influence in how public companies invest profits or make decisions about new revenue streams.

In keeping with modern American capitalism, many companies are driven by a singular vision: to bring value to the people who own company stock. Vox’s Matt Yglesias explains how this mentality plays out:

Therefore, for executives to set aside shareholder profits in pursuit of some other goal like environmental protection, racial justice, community stability, or simple common decency would be a form of theft. If reformulating your product to be more addictive or less healthy increases sales, then it’s not only permissible but actually required to do so. If closing a profitable plant and outsourcing the work to a low-wage country could make your company even more profitable, then it’s the right thing to do.

While it’s true that CEOs are required by law to prioritize value to shareholders, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are required to make decisions guided only by what maximizes profits. The Supreme Court made this clear in its 2014 opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

“Modern corporate law does not require for-profit corporations to pursue profit at the expense of everything else, and many do not,” the justices wrote in their opinion.

Momentum is starting to build to change this dynamic, by giving employees and consumers more power in corporate decision making.

Just last month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced a bill that would require large public companies to make decisions not only based on how they would affect shareholders, but also on how they would affect consumers, employees and the communities where the company operates. The bill, titled the Accountable Capitalism Act, would also require corporations to allow employees to elect 40 percent of a company’s board of directors.

The idea behind the bill is to make sure that US corporations are decent citizens. That seems to be the same idea motivating Google employees to make more demands from their employer, which happens to be one of the most powerful companies in the world.

Google employees want a role in evaluating company projects

The response of Google employees to the company’s Dragonfly project for China gives us a glimpse of what might happen if workers had a more formal role in corporate decision making.

In their letter to executives, Google employees made four specific demands. First, they want the company to create a structure to allow rank-and-file employees to review ethical issues in company projects. Second, they want the company to appoint an ombudsman to oversee the ethics review process, with input from employees over who fills the position.

They also want a plan to ensure Google is transparent with employees about the purpose of the technology the company is developing, so employees can make informed choices about the ethical implications of the work they do. And they want the company to publish ethical assessments of their projects, such as Dragonfly, and to communicate regularly with employees about issues of concern.

So far, Google executives haven’t said publicly whether or not they will go along. Based on reports describing a staff meeting last month at the company’s California headquarters, the conversation about Dragonfly didn’t get that far.

But if Pichai and other executives do go along with the demands, it would certainly reflect a major shift in corporate priorities. And it would bolster a fundamental point in the debate: Employees are the ones who literally create value for shareholders, so they need to be on board with what they are creating.

Brandon Downey, a former Google engineer who says he regrets his role in helping develop the company’s first censored search tool in China (before the company stopped operating its search engine in the Chinese market in 2010), wrote a moving essay about what’s at stake:

Google is acting like a traditional company; one that squeezes every dime out of the marketplace, heedless of intangibles like principle, ethical cost, and even at the risk of the safety of its users. ...

If technology is a tool, then it means the people making that tool have a responsibility to curb their tool’s misuse by playing a role in the decisions on how it gets used. And if the people who are the leaders of the company don’t believe this, they should hear it in plainer and clearer terms: namely, you do not become one of the largest companies in the history of capitalism without the assistance of the workers making those tools.

source: vox

The latest developments in the abuse allegations against Rep. Keith Ellison, explained

 

What they are and why they’re back in the news, explained.

In the days before Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) won a five-way Democratic primary for attorney general in Minnesota in August, he was accused of abuse by a former girlfriend — an accusation he continues to vehemently deny.

On August 11, the son of Ellison’s ex-girlfriend Karen Monahan wrote a lengthy Facebook post saying that he saw a video of Ellison grabbing his mother and swearing at her in a bedroom. Last week, Monahan released patient progress notes taken by a doctor that mentioned she had reported she was in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship — and identified her abusive partner as Ellison.

The document does indeed show that Monahan said she was in an abusive relationship, but the doctor notes that “she did not have any physical injuries that required a physical examination in the past.”

The issue is popping up in the news again with Monahan’s recent release of her medical notes, as well an issue that has nothing to do with either Monahan or Ellison: the sexual assault allegations swirling around Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Facing a huge scandal within their own ranks, Republicans are furious at Democrats and pointing fingers, asking why Dems don’t investigate abuse allegations against one of their own.

What we know about the August allegations

On August 11, Austin Monahan, the son of Ellison’s ex-girlfriend Karen Monahan, wrote on Facebook that he’d seen video of Ellison abusing his mother.

Karen Monahan had been posting for weeks on social media about an abusive relationship in her past, but she hadn’t named the man. She confirmed her son’s statement in a follow-up tweet, mentioning Ellison and adding, “you know you did that to me.”

Ellison confirmed he was in a relationship with Monahan in a two-line statement, but he denied ever abusing her — or that a video of such abuse existed.

“Karen and I were in a long-term relationship which ended in 2016, and I still care deeply for her well-being,” Ellison said in his original statement.

Monahan also released a lengthy statement to the local outlet Fox 9, painting a picture of a long-term relationship that was emotionally abusive and had taken a physical toll by the time she left Ellison in January 2017. In her statement, she said the relationship had been detrimental to her mental health and resulted in “complex PTSD.”

“Throughout the relationship he would say and do things and then gaslight me when I would ask what was going on,” Monahan said. “He would make me think I was crazy for suspecting things I had heard or had seen.”

In the post, Monahan alleged that Ellison was unfaithful and characterized his behavior as “pathological lying, cheating,” and “smearing my name.” She also talked about the specific incident of alleged abuse, which she said occurred in 2016:

One night I confronted him very calm about a lie he had just told me straight to my face. What happened next was a rage that I had never witnessed to that magnitude. He was becoming a person I had never seen before. The next morning, he came into the room I was sleeping in. I was laying across the bed with my headphones on, listening to podcast on my phone. He said he was about to leave town for the weekend and told me to take the trash out. Given the explosive outrage that occurred the night before, I just should shook my head yes. I didn’t look up at him or saying anything. That is when he tried to drag me off the bed by my legs and feet, screaming “bitch you answer when I am talking to you. I said take out the trash, your a bad guest (even though we were living in the same place). He kept trying to drag me off the bed, telling me to get the fuck out of his house, over and over. I froze. He had to leave and get on the plane. He knocked the shoe off my foot and told me I better be gone when he gets back (which was in two days).

Monahan’s August allegations were the second time Ellison had been publicly accused of domestic violence. Another woman, Amy Louise Alexander, said in 2006 that Ellison verbally abused her while they were having an affair. She also said he grabbed and pushed her during an argument. Ellison denied ever having a relationship with her.

Alexander ended up in a legal battle with Ellison when he took her to court to get a restraining order, which a judge granted to him. Her counter-request was denied.

There are several similarities between the accounts: Both women were involved in Minnesota progressive politics, and they described Ellison losing his temper and using threats, verbal harassment, and violence.

But unlike other instances in the #MeToo era, where media outlets — in many cases — have asserted that women endured sexual harassment, assault, or other abusive behavior, the media has been much more ambivalent about saying whether either Monahan’s or Alexander’s claims are reliable.

Reporters at local and national outlets still haven’t been able to review the video evidence Monahan has pointed to (and still claims to have) and thereby confirm whether the alleged abuse took place. Monahan has not released the video that she and her son say exists, although she threatened Ellison with doing so in a recent tweet, in which she said, “You know I have the video and more.”

While Monahan released dozens of text messages in August that she and Ellison sent to each other, they don’t specifically corroborate violence or verbal abuse. Some texts are obviously cropped in the middle of an exchange. And though she has documentation of reporting past domestic abuse to a doctor, the doctor doesn’t document any physical evidence to corroborate her claim.

In other words, the situation between Ellison and Monahan is essentially still a “he said, she said” situation where she has accused him of abuse and he has categorically denied everything. Ellison so far is not feeling the pressure to leave his race, even though he recently told a local Minnesota news station he could not be sure more allegations wouldn’t come out.

“Look, you know, in this political environment, you know, I don’t know what somebody might cook up,” Ellison told the local TV station WCCO. “But I can tell you that there is absolutely nobody that I’m aware of ... who’s threatening or suggesting or has ever made a prior accusation.”

The Ellison allegations are cropping up as Republicans deal with Kavanaugh

Even with Monahan’s public allegations hitting two days before the state attorney general primary in August, Ellison sailed through to victory. Now, it’s hard to say what impact the allegations will have on the general election. Ellison is currently leading Republican Doug Wardlow, 41 percent to 36 percent in a September Minneapolis Star-Tribune poll, and is showing no signs he’ll exit the race.

But the allegations against Ellison are becoming more salient again as Republicans are dealing with a massive, developing scandal of their own — the sexual assault and misconduct allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

As two women — Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez — have gone public with their stories of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh, the judge’s confirmation to the Supreme Court is on shaky ground. Some Republicans have called the allegations a “smear campaign” and are asking why Democrats aren’t investigating allegations into some of their prominent members — notably, Ellison, who is also the vice chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Senate Democrats made a quick example of former Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) after eight women came forward to accuse him of inappropriately touching them or trying to kiss them without their consent. Franken initially didn’t want to resign, but after pressure from his own party, he stepped down.

That’s caused plenty of heartache among Franken fans, but there are plenty of others — including Vox’s Matt Yglesias — who argue that Democrats made the right choice, and would have looked like huge hypocrites in any situation where a high-profile Republican was accused of assault if Franken were still walking around the halls of the Senate.

With a question mark hanging over the Ellison allegations, Republicans are pouncing. But it’s worth noting that some Democrats, including Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), also want Ellison to be investigated, especially given his high-profile position as vice chair of the DNC.

Whether that investigation will happen is an open question, as is whether Ellison can win his race for attorney general with the allegations hanging over his head.

source: vox

Republicans keep saying there’s no evidence behind claims of Kavanaugh’s misconduct. That’s not true.

 
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says the claims are uncorroborated and unsubstantiated.

Senate Republican leaders want Ford to be heard — just not believed.

Republican leaders say the sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh are part of a Democratic “smear campaign.” The claims are “unsubstantiated,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday, citing a “complete lack of evidence.”

“No location, no date and no witnesses,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) said Tuesday to sum up Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school — seemingly minimizing her first-hand account.

Senate Republicans want it both ways; they’re already claiming the accusations are not credible, but many, like McConnell, have stopped short of calling the accusers liars — a window into the high-stakes political calculations around #MeToo allegations.

“It should be clear now to all Americans that Democrats are engaged in a coordinated effort to stop Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation by any means possible,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), a top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a lengthy statement Monday. “As I have said before, every accuser deserves to be heard. Moreover, a person who has committed sexual assault should not serve on the Supreme Court.”

Two women have come forward with allegations against Kavanaugh, both dating back to his high school and college days. Ford, a Palo Alto University professor, said Kavanaugh pinned her down at a party in high school, tried to take off her clothes, and forced himself on her. Deborah Ramirez, who went to Yale with Kavanaugh, said he exposed himself to her at a party, thrusting his penis in her face. Kavanaugh has denied both allegations aggressively. Hatch has said he thinks Ford is “mistaken” but went on to call Ramirez a “phony.”

This week Ford will testify to her account in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Kavanaugh will do the same, likely resulting in nothing more than the he-said, she-said debate that’s already unfurled in a week of media reports. Then, McConnell has said, there will be a vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination soon. The strategy is becoming clear: Republicans are giving the accusers a chance to be “heard” — but denying them the opportunity to be believed.

Republicans keep saying there are “no witnesses” to these allegations

Republican leaders have been questioning the validity of these sexual misconduct allegations since they were first made public, calling them a partisan attack against Kavanaugh.

“Senate Democrats and their allies are trying to destroy a man’s personal and professional life on the basis of decades’ old allegations that are unsubstantiated and uncorroborated,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Monday. “This is what the so-called resistance has become: a smear campaign, pure and simple, aided and abetted by members of the United States Senate.”

On the latest allegations from Ramirez, Majority Whip John Cornyn tweeted that “only a partisan would claim these credible without evidence.”

To be clear: There is evidence — for both the accusers’ accounts, and in Kavanaugh’s defense.

In Ramirez’s case, McConnell said that the allegations are “so dubious” that the New York Times didn’t find the story “fit to publish.” The New York Times said their reporters interviewed several dozen people to corroborate the story but could not find someone with first-hand knowledge of the Ramirez’s allegations. New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet said that they do not, however, question the New Yorker’s account of the allegations.

“I gather some people thought we were trying to knock down her (Ramirez’) account, but that’s not what we were doing. I’m not questioning their story,” Baquet said in a statement. Farrow also commented on Baquet’s statement, saying he had exclusive access to Ramirez.

Ramirez went public in an article reported by the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow. The story was clear that Ramirez said she had holes in her memory, and that she was originally reluctant to come forward with the account and only did so after six days of reflection. One classmate of Ramirez said he is “one-hundred-per-cent sure” that another student told him about the incident after it happened, independently recalling several of the same details. The New Yorker, however, couldn’t corroborate the story with anyone Ramirez remembered to be at the party. Another former student, Richard Oh, now a California-based doctor, also recalled hearing about the incident.

In Ford’s case, her allegations were documented by her therapist in notes from sessions in 2012 and 2013, in which Ford talked about a “rape attempt” and being attacked by students “from an elitist boys’ school.” She also took and passed a polygraph test, which of course isn’t a fully reliable method of fact-seeking.

Republicans however, insist there is no evidence to her claims. They cite a denial from Mark Judge, Kavanaugh’s classmate who was allegedly present at the time of the incident, as well as from Patrick J. Smyth, who Ford named as being at the party, but has denied attending. A woman, Ford said was at the event, Leland Keyser, said she doesn’t know Kavanaugh.

Kavanaugh said Monday night that it’s completely possible these women have been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives — just not by him — a level of carefulness many Republicans are following. (Hatch, who of course did call Ramirez a “phony” said he thought Ford was “mistaken,” raising questions about her memory.)

Republicans’ message is clear: There’s no reason to believe these allegations.

Republicans are making this a he-said, she-said debate. They already said who they trust more.

Kavanaugh is a well established name in conservative circles. Republican senators are quick to tell you that they know him — and more importantly — don’t know the accusers.

“I have no reason not to believe him,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said last week of Kavanaugh in the wake of Ford’s allegations. “We have never seen this person. It just happened five days before a vote and 35 years ago. I do think Kavanaugh has handled himself well. We didn’t know who she was until yesterday.”

Hatch said the same: “I think she’s mistaking something, but I don’t know; I mean, I don’t know her,” Hatch said.

The descriptions of Ford from her acquaintances and colleagues, in fact, bear a close resemblance to how Republicans have described Kavanaugh. It raises an important factor: Who seems credible will be crucial if Ford and Kavanaugh both testify before the Senate committee.

Republicans have not currently scheduled any additional witnesses to testify to the Senate. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Chuck Grassley said he did not think it was necessary to question more than Kavanaugh and Ford. With Ramirez’s most recent allegations, Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said the Senate was in talks with her lawyer, but it’s not clear if that will lead to any formal testimony.

As scheduled, the hearing Thursday will be nothing more than a he-said, she-said back and forth. And Republicans have already said where they stand on that debate.

Ford should be heard, they have said — just not believed.

source: vox

Why Brett Kavanaugh’s yearbook page matters

 
Protesters rally against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez.

The “Renate Alumni” jokes reveal so much about American misogyny.

“The vast majority of the time I spent in high school was studying or focused on sports and being a good friend to the boys and the girls that I was friends with,” Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh said in a Fox News interview on Monday night.

But his page in the Georgetown Preparatory School yearbook appears to tell a different story. As Kate Kelly and David Enrich reported at the New York Times on Monday, among apparent references to drinking and partying, the page includes the phrase “Renate Alumnius,” a reference to Renate Schroeder (now Renate Schroeder Dolphin), a student at a neighboring girls’ school.

Dolphin’s first name appears repeatedly throughout the yearbook, including below a photo of nine football players, one of them Kavanaugh, who describe themselves as “Renate Alumni.”

A lawyer for Kavanaugh says “Renate Alumnius” is merely a reference to the fact that the two students “attended one high school event together and shared a brief kiss good night following that event.” But others say the “Renate Alumni” jokes were part of a demeaning pattern in which boys bragged about having sex with Dolphin.

“The insinuation is horrible, hurtful and simply untrue,” Dolphin said in a statement to the Times. “I pray their daughters are never treated this way.”

Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook takes on importance now, 35 years after he graduated in 1983, because psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford says he sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school, and another woman, Deborah Ramirez, says he thrust his genitals in her face without her consent not long after, when they were students at Yale. Kavanaugh has denied both allegations and, on Monday, told Fox’s Martha MacCallum, “I’ve always treated women with dignity and respect.”

The contents of his yearbook page cast doubt on that claim.

More broadly, at least according to several Georgetown Prep students, the “Renate Alumni” references are part of a larger social pattern in which men build themselves up by bragging about sex with women, without regard for the feelings or desires of the women involved. President Trump has been caught on tape doing much the same thing, bragging about his ability to grab women’s genitals.

Kavanaugh’s confirmation process has brought to the surface many of the problems we struggle with as a society when it comes to discussing sexuality and sexual misconduct. His yearbook page brings up another one: the idea that women are objects for men’s amusement, their sexuality something for men to joke about with their friends.

The yearbook page calls into question Kavanaugh’s claims about his high school years

In his Fox News interview, Kavanaugh characterized his high school self as wholesome and pious, a good friend to men and women alike. “I was focused on academics and athletics, going to church every Sunday at Little Flower, working on my service projects, and friendship, friendship with my fellow classmates and friendship with girls from the local all-girls Catholic schools,” he said.

But according to several people who spoke with the Times, he and his friends didn’t always treat girls as equals. Kavanaugh and the other football players “were very disrespectful, at least verbally, with Renate,” said Sean Hagan, who attended Georgetown Prep at the time. He and another former student, who asked to remain anonymous, said the boys bragged about sex with Dolphin.

One former student, Michael Walsh, included the phrase “Renate Alumnus” on his page along with a poem: “You need a date / and it’s getting late / so don’t hesitate / to call Renate.”

Four of the players with Kavanaugh in the “Renate Alumni” photo issued a statement saying that they had “never bragged about” sex with Dolphin and that the “Renate” references “were intended to allude to innocent dates or dance partners and were generally known within the community of people involved for over 35 years.”

“These comments were never controversial and did not impact ongoing relationships until The Times twisted and forced an untrue narrative,” the statement added.

But a person familiar with Dolphin’s thinking told the Times that she was aware of the poem about her in high school, found it offensive, and asked the football players to stop reciting it. Dolphin had signed a letter, along with 64 other women, after Ford’s allegations became public, saying that Kavanaugh always “treated women with respect.” But she was not aware when she signed it that her name appeared on Kavanaugh’s yearbook page, she told the Times. She also said she had never kissed Kavanaugh.

The references to Dolphin in Kavanaugh’s yearbook have parallels in the allegations made by Deborah Ramirez. She says that during a drinking game at a party, Kavanaugh put his penis in her face while other students watched. “I was embarrassed and ashamed and humiliated,” she told Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer at the New Yorker.

A former Yale classmate described Ramirez to the New Yorker as “a vulnerable outsider,” and said, “Is it believable that she was alone with a wolfy group of guys who thought it was funny to sexually torment a girl like Debbie? Yeah, definitely. Is it believable that Kavanaugh was one of them? Yes.”

The “Renate Alumni” jokes appear to support this description of Kavanaugh — not as someone who always treated women with respect, but as someone who thought it was funny to sexually humiliate them. The references lend credibility to Ramirez’s account and cast doubt on Kavanaugh’s claims about his high school self, thereby casting doubt, in turn, on his denials of the sexual misconduct allegations against him.

If he is misrepresenting the kind of person he was in high school, is he misrepresenting other things as well? And if he was the kind of person who amused himself and his friends by bragging about his sexual conquests at girls’ expense, can he be trusted to make fair decisions on the Supreme Court when it comes to women’s rights?

The “Renate Alumni” references are part of a bigger problem

Kavanaugh was not alone in making references to “Renate” on his page. Bill Barbot, a former Georgetown Prep student, told the Times that Kavanaugh was part of the school’s “fratty” culture, in which boasts about sexual conquests were commonplace. Some of the boasts may have been baseless, according to another former student, William Fishburne, who said that when it came to sex, students at the school “would claim things they hadn’t done to sort of seem bigger than they were, older than they were.”

It’s also not clear to what degree school officials understood or condoned the “Renate” references. According to the Times, a faculty adviser reviewed the yearbook, and a spokesperson for Georgetown Prep declined to comment further to Vox, but pointed to a letter to the school community from Georgetown Prep President Rev. James R. Van Dyke, posted on the school’s website.

“It is a time for us to continue to evaluate our school culture, as we do each day, and to think deeply and long about what it means to be ‘men for others,’ what the vaunted Prep ‘brotherhood’ is really about,” Van Dyke writes. “It is a time to continue our ongoing work with the guys on developing a proper sense of self and a healthy understanding of masculinity, in contrast to many of the cultural models and caricatures that they see.”

He is right that American culture offers many negative models of masculinity — the kind of sexualized boasting Kavanaugh is accused of is far from unique to Georgetown Prep, or to 1983. Rather, it remains commonplace for men to brag about sex with women, without regard for what the women themselves may want.

“I just start kissing them,” Trump said on the infamous Access Hollywood tape, recorded in 2005. “It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.”

“When you’re a star, they let you do it,” he added, as Billy Bush laughed. “Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Despite an uproar when it was released in October 2016, the tape didn’t stop Trump from becoming president. The message: Making your friends laugh by bragging about kissing and touching women, apparently without asking permission, is completely acceptable in America today.

This message has an effect on young people. “Girls my age are watching, reading, and hearing these conversations,” Columbia University freshman Elizabeth Love wrote at Vox of the discussions around the Kavanaugh allegations. “We’re each scared that the national conversation around Kavanaugh gives entitled young men today the green light to be abusive without worrying that it could affect their future ambitions. We don’t understand how, in the midst of the #MeToo movement, people could be so dismissive of such serious accusations.”

Meanwhile, 76 percent of girls ages 14 to 19 feel unsafe at least once in a while, according to a recent survey by Plan International USA. Seventy-two percent say they feel treated with less respect at least some of the time because of their gender. And 41 percent of boys say society expects them to be aggressive and violent when they get angry.

At this point, Kavanaugh’s confirmation is not just about Kavanaugh. It’s also about a culture in which men can treat women like objects for their own amusement and face no consequences for their actions. Kavanaugh swears he is not a product of such a culture — but, increasingly, the accounts of others tell a different story. When he and Christine Ford testify before the Senate on Thursday, the American people can decide whom to believe.

source: vox

Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Kavanaugh: this is about whether we should believe victims of sexual assault

 
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) emphasizes listening to Kavanaugh’s accusers.

Murkowski is considered one of the Republican swing votes in the Kavanaugh confirmation process.

As Republican leaders press on about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s qualifications as a judge, Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is seen as one of the key swing votes for Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, has a different perspective: This is about whether women who have made accusations of sexual misconduct should be believed.

“We are now in a place where it’s not about whether or not Judge Kavanaugh is qualified,” Murkowski told the New York Times Monday night. “It is about whether or not a woman who has been a victim at some point in her life is to be believed.”

Two women have come forward with allegations against Kavanaugh, both dating back to his high school and college days. Christine Blasey Ford, a Palo Alto University professor said Kavanaugh pinned her down at a party in high school, tried to take off her clothes and force himself on her. Deborah Ramirez, who went to Yale with Kavanaugh, said he exposed himself to her at a party, thrusting his penis in her face. Kavanaugh has denied both allegations aggressively.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the allegations part of a Democratic “smear campaign” calling the allegations “unsubstantiated.” Another top-ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has said he thinks Ford is “mistaken,” and went on to call Ramirez a “phony.”

But Murkowski doesn’t seem so sure. On Tuesday, she told reporters that she sees the merits in an independent FBI investigation into the allegations, something Senate Democrats and the accusers have called for.

“It would sure clear up all the questions, wouldn’t it?” Murkowski said.

President Donald Trump said he sees no need for an independent federal investigation. Republican leaders have said it’s not the FBI’s job to investigate the allegations, and that it wouldn’t add any value to the current process.

Senate Republicans leaders, who, despite allegations, seem adamant about confirming Kavanaugh, control 51 seats in the Senate and can only afford to lose two votes — assuming Democrats remain in lockstep against Kavanaugh.

Murkowski, along with Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Bob Corker (R-TN) are seen as biggest swing votes.

source: vox

Trump attacks Kavanaugh’s second accuser, saying she was “totally drunk”

 

He thinks the whole thing is a Democratic “con.”

President Donald Trump last week showed somewhat unexpected restraint when discussing the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. His reserve has been deteriorating in recent days; he declared on Twitter on Friday that Kavanaugh’s first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, surely would have alerted the authorities if the incident was “as bad as she says.”

Now that a second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, has come forward with sexual misconduct claims against Kavanaugh, the wheels are off the bus for the president.

He said that Ramirez, who has said she was drinking during the alleged incident and that there are gaps in her memory, was “totally inebriated and all messed up” and dismissed her claims while speaking to reporters at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday after meeting with the president of Colombia.

“I think [Kavanaugh] is just a wonderful human being,” Trump said. “I think it is horrible what the Democrats have done. It is a con game; they are real con artists.”

Trump repeated the “con” claim multiple times and grew angrier as he spoke. “Thirty-six years ago? Nobody ever knew about it? Nobody ever heard about it? And now a new charge comes up,” Trump said. He said to “take a look at the lawyers” who “are the same lawyers who have been fighting for years” and worried that no one will want to go before “this system” to be a judge or politician in the current environment.

“I can tell you that false accusation and false accusations of all types are made against a lot of people,” Trump, who himself has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than a dozen women, said. “This is a high-quality person, and it would be a horrible insult to our country if this doesn’t happen. And it’ll be a horrible, horrible thing for future political people, judges, anything you want, it’ll be a horrible thing. It cannot be allowed to happen.”

He then went back to attacking Democrats. “The Democrats are playing a con game, C-O-N, a con game,” he said. “It’s a shame.”

Trump doesn’t believe Ramirez because she was drunk. So, allegedly, was Kavanaugh.

Ford alleges that during the early 1980s when she and Kavanaugh were at a party in high school, he drunkenly pinned her to a bed, tried to take off her clothes, and covered her mouth when she screamed as another boy, his friend Mark Judge, looked on. Ramirez came forth on Sunday alleging that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her and thrust his genitals in her face while both were drunk at a party in college. Kavanaugh has vehemently denied both women’s claims.

Trump last week said Ford should be heard, but per his Tuesday comments, he doesn’t appear to believe the same about Ramirez. He seized on the fact that she has said she was drinking during the alleged incident to attack her — even though Kavanaugh was allegedly drunk during both incidents.

“The second accuser has nothing. The second accuser doesn’t even know, she thinks maybe it could have been him, maybe not. She admits that she was drunk, she admits time lapses,” Trump said when asked whether Ramirez should be invited to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, as Ford and Kavanaugh have been.

He continued, exasperated, “This is a person, and this is a series of statements, that’s going to take one of the most talented, one of the greatest intellects, from a judicial standpoint in our country, going to keep him off the United States Supreme Court?”

Trump isn’t the only one in the White House who has been changing his tune on the allegations against Kavanaugh. Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway last week also said that Ford should be heard, but in a call with White House surrogates on Monday, she reportedly defended Kavanaugh by saying he’s better than Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and told CBS This Morning that the accusations are “starting to feel like a left-wing conspiracy.”

source: vox

If Republicans sour on Kavanaugh, here are 4 alternatives waiting in the wings

 

APC Cheiftains in Keffi, Nasarawa State Drum Support for Engr. A. A. Sule

 

Keffi Local Government Chairman Hon. AbdulRahman Maigoro and SA to the State Governor has drum support for the gubernatorial ambition of Engr Sule during and an event held at the Keffi Youth Centre.

The event which was attended by former Local government chairman Mohammed Dikko and other party supporters resolved to support Engr. Sule because he will consolidate on the achievements of the present administration as technocrat per excellence. They said as an industrialist who has excel in the private sectors will no doubt turn the fortune of the state.

SA to the Governor who represented the governor at the event in his remark enjoined the APC supporters to mobilise support for the APC governorship candidate Engr Sule, as industrious son of the soil who has traverse locally and internationally doing business will attract investors to the state. He expressed Governor Almakura’s support to Engr. Slue’s ambition.

He urged the party members to support Engr. Sule to win the party ticket and state governorship election.

The former Keffi Local government Chairman Muhammad Dikko who spoke on behalf of the party members expressed optimism that Engr. Sule will emerged victorious at the poll.

(NTA)

UN audience literally bursts out laughing at Trump’s speech

 

They didn’t take the president’s bragging very seriously.

One of President Trump’s favorite attacks on his political opponents is to say that the world is “laughing” at the United States. But on Tuesday, during Trump’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly, the assembled world notables literally laughed at him.

The audience erupted in laughter early, when Trump bragged about his accomplishments as president. “In two years, we have accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country,” he said.

Trump makes this sort of grandiose claim all the time, typically to friendly audiences at home. But the UN audience is less willing to indulge him, and at least a few members of the audience arguably giggled at this truly ridiculous claim. This flustered Trump, who smiled and said “so true” in response to the laughter. That bred even more laughter, though it was hard to tell at whose expense.

The president paused again, and smiled somewhat uncomfortably. “Didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s okay,” he said:

Past American presidents were not met with this kind of derision. That’s not surprising: Pew data shows that trust in the United States around the world plummeted after Trump took office. While Trump may be able to get away with this kind of absurd bragging at home — putting his presidency at the same level as Washington’s, Lincoln’s, and FDR’s — world dignitaries have more critical distance and no political incentive to let him get away with hyperbole.

Then there’s the sheer irony of the situation. Trump is “obsessed,” as NBC reporter Benjy Sarlin puts it, with the idea of the world laughing at the United States:

And now they are literally laughing at him. It’s the “there’s always a tweet” principle on steroids.

source: vox

Why the Kavanaugh accusations matter so much to teen girls like me

 

To those dismissing the Kavanaugh allegations: Teen girls are watching and hearing you.

Here’s how some of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s former classmates described him and his friends when they attended Yale in the ’80s:

“Kavanaugh became a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, or ‘DKE,’ which several students said was known for its wild and, in the view of some critics, misogynistic parties,” wrote Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer in the New Yorker’s recent investigation into a second accusation of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh. “Kavanaugh was also a member of an all-male secret society, Truth and Courage, which was popularly known by the nickname ‘Tit and Clit.’” In another interview in the article, a former classmate described Kavanaugh and his friends as a “wolfy group of guys.”

I’m 18 years old, only six months older than Brett Kavanaugh was when he allegedly sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl. (Kavanaugh denies the allegations.) I know boys that matched the descriptions of him and his friends — belligerent, abusive, and entitled — because they can be. They know they are destined for high places in society simply because they were born into privilege. Now that I’ve been in college for a few weeks, I’m getting the sense these kinds of boys are here too.

Most high school girls know these boys. At parties, we learn to be vigilant when they’re around. In college, we’re taught how to distract potential attackers. We learn to keep an eye on our friends and intervene in situations that seem dangerous.

But that doesn’t mean that boys like this are the norm — they are a dangerous anomaly. And now our country is telling them that sexual assault as a teenager is not just forgivable, but that, if the allegations are true, it would not even disqualify a person from the highest court in America. As a teenage girl, it terrifies me. Even if a teenage boy’s age might save him from consequences, our age does not save us from the trauma of assault.

Sexual assault is not typical “risky teen behavior”

Multiple commentators have argued the allegations against Kavanaugh, if true, can be chalked up to nothing more than youthful indiscretion. “Should the fact that a 17-year-old, presumably very drunk kid, did this, should this be disqualifying?” asked New York Times opinion editor Bari Weiss on MSNBC.

“Drunk teenagers playing seven minutes in heaven” is how Fox News commentator Stephen Miller described it. “Kavanaugh was a teenager at the time. Of course he was different then; he was a third of the age he is now. And teens do stupid, dangerous and destructive things,” wrote Jonathan Zimmerman in USA Today.

The argument — that teenagers are more prone to risky behavior because our brains aren’t developed enough to make careful decisions — is dangerous rhetoric. Suggesting that fast cars or underage drinking are the same as attempting to rape somebody is a false equivalence. Moreover, the dismissal of Kavanaugh’s alleged actions because he was a teen suggests that Kavanaugh’s alleged error was not assault but nearsightedness: a failure to assess potential consequences for him.

But sexual abuse should not be seen as a matter of risk assessment, or as something that teenagers simply “grow out of.” This shifts the focus from the trauma inevitably faced by the victim to the consequences faced by the perpetrator as the reason not to commit abuse. It is an alarming suggestion that this is what is reprehensible instead of focusing on its inherent immorality.

Teens who are listening to this national conversation are terrified

Girls my age are watching, reading, and hearing these conversations. And it’s making us scared. I have one friend who told me that the worst part is the clear disregard for women’s safety at the highest levels of the government. Another is terrified to give a man like that so much power, assuming the allegations are true.

Most of all, we’re each scared that the national conversation around Kavanaugh gives entitled young men today the green light to be abusive without worrying that it could affect their future ambitions. We don’t understand how, in the midst of the #MeToo movement, people could be so dismissive of such serious accusations. We feel like we’re sliding backward.

I’m saddened for teenage boys, too. Their entire age group shouldn’t be demonized by adults defending Kavanaugh on the basis of his age at the time of the accusations. To suggest that this is normal, that “boys will be boys,” isn’t fair to the vast majority of teenage boys who don’t behave this way. The young men that I know are disturbed by the accusations, emphasizing that any boy should know that sexual assault is wrong at 17. This is not typical drunken teenage behavior.

Maybe those focused on Kavanaugh’s age know all this but simply believe that the accusations are too old to be relevant. But age is nothing without atonement. If Kavanaugh’s statement had shown that he had reformed, or that he had taught his children to be better, or, at the very least, that he now understands the severity of these alleged actions, perhaps the accusations wouldn’t be so clearly disqualifying.

But the moment we start to excuse the teenage actions of our nation’s leaders, we put young girls at risk. We tell them that the traumas they experience don’t “count,” and that if they speak up, they’ll be dismissed. And we tell teen boys that entitlement to women’s bodies is inherent and normal.

If the allegations are proven to be accurate after testimony from his accusers, Kavanaugh has no business serving on the highest court in our country. To confirm him tells teen girls everywhere that their safety doesn’t matter.

Elizabeth Love is a first-year at Columbia University. Her writing has been featured in the Huffington Post and the Salt Lake Tribune. You can find her on Twitter @lizlove000.


First Person is Vox’s home for compelling, provocative narrative essays. Do you have a story to share? Read our submission guidelines, and pitch us at firstperson@vox.com.

source: vox

The Brett Kavanaugh confirmation fight is also about the future of the economy

 
Protesters rally in front of the Supreme Court while demonstrating against the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the court on September 24, 2018.

His jurisprudence would render economic and environmental regulation nearly impossible.

There’s a reason that groups like the US Chamber of Commerce are still backing Brett Kavanaugh despite serious accusations that he sexually assaulted one or more women in his younger days, which Kavanaugh denies. Big business knows that Kavanaugh could be a boon to their bottom line.

One of the biggest questions facing the American judiciary is whether the Constitution allows elected representatives to meaningfully regulate the national economy.

Kavanaugh clearly believes it does not: He has called the existence of independent regulatory agencies — notably including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau but potentially the entire alphabet soup of FCC, FTC, CFTC, SEC, FEC, etc. — a “threat to individual liberty.”

But rather than debate this squarely, we are instead faced with grifters like Kavanaugh’s former boss Ken Starr insisting in the pages of the Washington Post that Kavanaugh stands for nothing more than a simple “pro-democracy, let-the-people-govern-themselves vision.”

The truth is quite the opposite — Kavanaugh’s vision, which he shares with Starr and the bulk of the conservative legal academy, is one in which the courts should stand as staunch allies of capital and block any effort at democratic control of big business.

The deference grift

The notion that Kavanaugh holds a pro-democracy vision is what the Post put in Starr’s headline, but the full sentence makes it clear that the former special prosecutor is running a shell game. Starr’s claim is not that Kavanaugh believes in deference to the elected branches of government and will be reluctant to strike down laws as unconstitutional. Rather, what Starr argues (emphasis mine) is that Kavanaugh’s “pro-democracy, let-the-people-govern-themselves vision has been evident in his incisive questioning of the modern-day judicial emphasis on courthouse deference to administrative agencies.”

In short, Starr praises Kavanaugh for favoring judicial activism in pursuit of a light-touch regulatory agenda.

The way the American political system works is that passing laws is clunky and difficult. Between bicameralism, the presidential veto, the committee system, and the filibuster, it’s just very hard to get new legislation enacted. At the same time, the business world moves fast to try to exploit profit-making opportunities. So if you want to regulate business effectively, you can’t play legislative whack-a-mole and spot abuses in real time. What reformers do instead is try to create regulatory agencies that are given broad mandates to police areas of conduct.

A classic example is the Clean Air Act, which charges the Environmental Protection Agency with identifying forms of harmful air pollution and promulgating rules to cost-effectively reduce it, rather than counting on Congress to pass new laws every time science or business practice changes.

To make this system work, judges need to show deference to the regulatory agencies and acknowledge that the congressional reformers who created them wanted the agencies to have some flexibility and discretion. Kavanaugh, as Starr correctly observers, does not believe that this deference should be granted. This is a crucial aspect of his judicial philosophy, and Starr is right to call attention to it.

But Kavanaugh’s doctrine is not about the promotion of self-government or even about deference, it’s about viewing discretion as a one-way street that is always biased against regulation.

Kavanaugh is never deferential, unless he is

If you read Kavanaugh’s decisions on cases regarding EPA regulations, you see a judge who poses as a defender of congressional prerogatives over an executive run amok. But if you glance instead at his ruling on a case relating to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, you see the opposite.

When creating this agency, Congress decided that the best way to create effective consumer protection would be to grant the agency a good measure of independence from the president — giving the agency a single director (rather than a five-person commission like the SEC or FCC) and giving the director a fixed-term. This, according to Kavanaugh, is unconstitutional because it violates the unitary nature of the executive branch.

So we cannot allow executive agencies to regulate aggressively because that would step on the prerogatives of Congress, but we cannot allow Congress to set up an aggressive regulatory agency because that would step on the prerogatives of the president.

Perhaps most tellingly of all, in an aside on a ruling related to the Affordable Care Act, Kavanaugh suggests that a president could simply choose not to enforce the law’s provisions. The absence of regulation, in other words, is always a permissible form of discretion and deference, whereas its presence is always suspect — with the question of who is supposed to defer to whom tossing like a hot potato according to the nature of the case.

The point, however, is not that Kavanaugh has some peculiar and inscrutable ideas about deference. It’s that he and the broader conservative legal movement have the very scrutable idea that the Constitution should be read primarily as a property owners’ charter, whose purpose is to stymie economic regulation. All kinds of specific provisions and doctrines can be pressed into service for this purpose, the most interesting of which in the short term is probably going to be the First Amendment.

A constitutional right to plutocracy

In one of the most startling developments of American history, the Reconstruction-era Congress passed the 14th Amendment to try to establish black people’s civil rights, only to see Gilded Age courts rule that the 14th Amendment’s reference to “due process” prohibited all kinds of economic regulations — including civil rights laws! This ultimately culminated in the Lochner-era jurisprudence that was discredited in the 1930s but that many conservative intellectuals are now trying to rehabilitate.

Meanwhile, we have in recent years begun to see the outlines of a new form of it, this time invoking the First Amendment rather than the 14th. This began with the discovery that that the constitutional prohibition on censorship also prevents Congress from enacting any kind of meaningful restraint on rich people’s ability to purchase influence in the electoral system first in Buckley v. Valeo and then later in McConnell v. FEC and continuing to the better-known Citizens United case that the constitutional prohibition on censorship also prevents Congress from enacting any kind of meaningful restraint on rich people’s ability to purchase influence in the electoral system.

In this year’s Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling, the Court opened a new front, arguing that the First Amendment limited states’ ability to enact anti-discrimination laws. The justices decided the case narrowly, but with Anthony Kennedy replaced by the more conservative Kavanaugh, we may well see further rulings in this direction.

They also found, even more curiously, that the First Amendment prohibits states from requiring that workers who decline to join their union pay a representation fee to prevent free-riding. The ruling in the Janus case was limited to public-sector unions, but most of the reasoning seems to apply equally well to private sector cases and, again, swapping out Kennedy for Kavanaugh could easily push it in this direction.

Kavanaugh himself has pushed the First Amendment even more aggressively than the Supreme Court has, deciding, for example, that net neutrality regulations violate the free speech rights of cable companies.

There’s no telling exactly how far the Court will push this logic, but the pernicious thing about it is that the initial premise in the campaign finance cases that there is an intimate connection between money and speech is not totally absurd. Most economic activity, at the end of the day, has at least some kind of expressive component, and one could conceivably invalidate anything from a statute punishing fraudulent banking practices to a minimum wage law as a limit on people’s right of self-expression. The crucial issue is the lens of values and priority through which one sees the world.

A charter of self-government or a charter for property owners?

The point, however, is not that Kavanaugh is an aggressive invalidator of government action. He does not think, for example, that the Fourth Amendment curbs the National Security Agency’s ability to engage in bulk, warrantless surveillance of Americans.

But where a progressive judge might see judicial intervention as primarily warranted in order to protect the powerless against assaults from the powerful, Kavanaugh and the conservative legal mainstream see it as a tool to protect business owners from majority rule. If one is a sufficiently unprincipled liar — which Brett Kavanaugh certainly is, as we saw in his remarks after Trump introduced him to the nation — one can dress this up in the language of democracy or originalism or whatever else.

But in truth, the clash of constitutional visions represents not a disagreement about originalism or novelty, but an ongoing disagreement that dates back to the founding of the Republic.

Is the Constitution a charter of self-government that allows the people’s elected representatives to try to find reasonable institutional solutions for the varied problems of the world? Or is it a charter for property owners that allows them to craft a state that’s well-armed and capable enough to defend their rights but incapacitated to govern the economy in any way?

source: vox

The 9 most important state legislature elections in 2018, explained

 

Income inequality is changing how we think, live, and die

 

Why society might be more stable if we had more poverty and less inequality.

Researcher Keith Payne has found something surprising: When people flying coach are forced to walk past the pampered first-class flyers in the front of the plane, the likelihood of some sort of air rage incident rises sharply.

In his 2017 book The Broken Ladder, Payne, a social psychologist at the University of North Carolina, argues that humans are hardwired to notice relative differences. When we’re reminded that we’re poorer or less powerful than others, we become less healthy, more angry, and more politically polarized.

I reached out to Payne because his argument seems to lead to a counterintuitive conclusion: American society would be more be more stable if we had more poverty and less inequality. I reached out to him to see if that’s what he’s come to believe after writing his book.

A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Sean Illing

Tell me what you think we least understand about the social costs of inequality.

Keith Payne

One big misunderstanding is that when people start talking about inequality, their minds go straight to poverty, but poverty’s only half of the equation. Inequality is about the size of the gap between the wealthy and the poor. It’s obviously important to be concerned about poverty and to alleviate the suffering that accompanies it, but that’s still only half the problem.

Sean Illing

What’s the other half of the problem?

Keith Payne

What people underappreciate is how having extreme inequality driven by the high end of wealth also causes trouble for society and for people’s well-being. Poverty is a related but separate problem. The presence of extreme inequality destabilizes a society in ways that are hard to understand but absolutely devastating.

Sean Illing

Let’s get into that. What sorts of problems spring from these wealth gaps?

Keith Payne

For starters, it produces serious health problems, and not subjective problems but objective health problems, like chronic diseases, obesity, drug and alcohol problems, and, ultimately, shorter life expectancies. You see comparatively higher rates of these health issues in countries with the most income inequality, and that’s after controlling for average income.

Sean Illing

I know what you mean when you say “controlling for average income,” but can you make that clear for people who don’t have a background in statistics?

Keith Payne

Sure, it means that if you take two people who make the same income, but one lives in a very high-inequality place and one lives in a low-inequality place, the person in the high-inequality location is more likely to deal with these chronic diseases, more likely to deal with these drug and alcohol problems, more likely to actually die sooner than the same person living in a low-inequality environment.

The high-inequality countries also have more crime, more incarceration, more school dropouts — things that we normally associate with poverty, but in wealthy developed countries, they’re actually more closely linked to inequality than to poverty rates.

Sean Illing

It seems obvious that wealthier people with more resources and better access to medical care will be healthier than poor people. But when you compare across societies, you find that the average person in a high-inequality society like America is less healthy than the average person in a low-inequality society like Sweden or Norway. How do you explain this gap?

Keith Payne

The perception of inequality around us has a couple of different effects. One is that it makes the average person feel poorer, [in] comparison to those who have more. And the second is that it raises our expectations. It raises our standards for what we think it is to be normal. Now, that all seems very subjective, but when you perceive yourself as poor compared to other people, that sets off a chain of events that translates into physical outcomes.

Sean Illing

That’s what I’m getting at: What’s the pathway from subjective perceptions of one’s relative poverty to actual physical health problems?

Keith Payne

One pathway is stress. If you perceive yourself as relatively low on the social ladder compared to others around you, it’s stressful, and the body treats that stress in the same way it treats a physical threat. So if you get the fight-or-flight response, you get immune responses that in the short term are good, but if they go on over the long term, over weeks or months, they can cause health problems.

Another pathway is that feeling lower on the status ladder compared to other people changes the way we approach decision-making in our own minds. It makes us riskier in our decisions; we focus more on the short term as opposed to the long term. So you have more people playing the lottery, taking payday loans, making questionable choices to try to get ahead economically. The long-term effects of these choices are usually bad — economically, emotionally, and physically.

Sean Illing

You also find that high-inequality societies are more polarized, more chaotic, and more dysfunctional. What accounts for this?

Keith Payne

What you find is that people who perceive themselves as having low status in a society often search for meaning in various ways, and one form that takes is believing in conspiracy theories. People disillusioned by their status in society look for various kinds of patterns around them, ways to justify their place, and that often takes irrational forms like conspiracy theories. Other times, it takes more normative forms like enhanced religious devotion.

Feeling lower status also has the effect of leading people to feel that the system is rigged against them. And so you hear a lot in the news about lower-education white voters feeling left behind as a function of the current economy and the kind of political consequences that has.

This feeling of being left behind is a real thing, but it’s not necessarily traceable to the fact that factories have gone overseas and that robots are replacing jobs. That’s clearly part of it, but the resentment is far worse when it happens in a society where people with higher educations and good social connections are getting wealthier and wealthier. It’s not hard to see how that can create political problems.

Sean Illing

Is it fair to say that economic inequality produces more political tribalism?

Keith Payne

I would call it more polarization, but you can call it political tribalism. And it happens on the left and the right. Again, people look for ways to make sense of a world that seems unfair, and often they do that by retreating into tribal identities — whether it’s political or religious or ethnic or whatever.

Sean Illing

A lot of the psychological problems you point to stem from our tendency to measure ourselves in terms of our social status. But humans have done this since we started living in groups, and certainly since the emergence of private property and individual rights. We’re just hardwired to detect relative differences. Is there something unique about what we’re seeing now?

Keith Payne

There’s nothing new about this psychological tendency to measure ourselves against others; that’s no different than it was 100 years ago or 1,000 years ago. What’s different today is the scale of the inequality around us, which is about as high as we’ve seen since we started keeping records of it.

Sean Illing

Do you think we would be healthier and happier if we had more poverty and less inequality?

Keith Payne

I think there’s a case to be made that trading off some measures of wealth, like the gross domestic product, would be worth it for the benefits that come with reduced inequality. The problem now isn’t that there’s too much wealth; it’s that nearly all of the increases are going to the wealthiest members of society.

Even if by some miracle we doubled everyone’s income tomorrow, that would only increase the inequality because when you double the income of millionaires, they get a lot richer than when you double the income of somebody making $20,000.

Usually, there isn’t a trade-off between more wealth and less inequality, because if you look across countries, the countries with lower levels of inequality actually have greater levels of social mobility. It’s easier to climb up that economic ladder if you’re in a place where inequality is on a human scale, as opposed to the astronomical levels of inequality that we see in America.

Sean Illing

A free society is going to produce unequal outcomes, and that’s fine so long as those inequalities don’t explode to epic proportions. So how do we negotiate these tensions?

Keith Payne

You put it well. That’s the trade-off we face. I don’t think there’s one optimum level; each society has to sort this out for itself. What works for Norway might not be the solution for America.

But the argument isn’t that everyone should be the same, or be equally successful. The argument is that democratic societies have got to negotiate these trade-offs and find the right balance between free markets and a progressive taxation system or a safety net that helps to even out the winners and losers in a way that preserves equality of opportunity but doesn’t allow society to become destabilized by inequalities.

I’m not a policy person, so I don’t have the answers. But we have enough data to know that this is something we ought to do if we want to keep our societies stable and healthy.

source: vox